People say they don’t like politics because “both sides can never agree on anything.” But is there anything that can ever achieve universal agreement?
Take, for example, the infamous Ice Bucket Challenge. For the past month, the internet has been completely consumed by videos of people–including many prominent celebrities, sports players, and politicians–dumping buckets of frigid water over their heads in an effort to raise awareness about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a tragic disease that is still incurable.
Clearly, everyone wants to find a way to prevent ALS. So one might think that something so seemingly uncontroversial would be universally embraced. And yet, mixed in between the videos of those completing the ice bucket challenge are posts by those who take a stand against the practice. Some claim that those who accept the challenge should have donated instead. Others claim that those who embrace the challenge don’t understand what ALS really is.
Columnists have written about the ineffectiveness of the effort, only to be deemed “Ice Bucket Challenge haters” by supporters who respond with their own columns (for example, Caitlin Dewey’s Washington Post column titled “Stop hating on the ice bucket challenge”).
The Ice Bucket Challenge has actually injured some people, too. A CNN headline from last Friday informed us of the following: “4 firefighters injured when ice bucket challenge goes wrong.” Buzzfeed has also compiled numerous lists of Ice Bucket Challenge “fails” (including this one).
Then there was the moral objection. Many Catholic leaders spoke out publicly against donating to the ALS Association because of its use of embryonic stem cell research, leading many religious people to donate to other organizations that refrain from this research. (To its credit, a representative of the ALS Association told The Blaze that donors were free to stipulate that their money not be used for embryonic stem cell research).
Clearly, we live in a messy world. People disagree about everything, including how to fight ALS, and politics is no different. Consider the goal of reducing poverty. Virtually everyone agrees that poverty is bad, but problems and arguments still come up when we try to agree on how to achieve that goal.
Democrats claim that Republicans don’t care about the poor because they want to cut funding for existing government programs. Republicans claim that the programs in question are outdated and ineffective at preventing poverty, accusing Democrats of supporting them only to win votes. It becomes impossible for either side to introduce new ideas. For example, when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced an innovative new anti-poverty plan this summer, the battle lines were drawn within the hour. His proposals were criticized as “obsolete,” “scary,” and “paternalistic” by opponents, and lauded as “promising” and “impressive” by supporters.
There are always people that will take sides, and many will have valid reasons for adopting their position. So when faced with a divisive issue (whether it be a political topic or a social phenomenon like the Ice Bucket Challenge), we have two choices. We can either run from controversy and hide our opinions, or we can jump in to the discussion and defend our beliefs in a courteous and respectful way.
For some reason, most people have chosen the latter response for the Ice Bucket Challenge, and almost everyone has offered their opinion on the matter to some degree. But in politics, we seem much more likely to choose the first option and stay silent in order to avoid the important discussions we must have as a society.
This year, instead of hiding from discussions and debates, try to approach politics like the Ice Bucket Challenge and actually engage with it. Yes, people will disagree. Yes, sometimes people–including you–may get a little annoying. Yes, it may take time and research to be good at debating and defending what you believe in. But these costs are small compared to the rude awakening of the real world’s equivalent of a bucket full of ice water: the realization that you are not at all invested in the most important issues facing our country.